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Can I give my dog Imodium for diarrhea?

Dog getting a dropper of medicine

Your dog has diarrhea and you need to do something about it. A question that crosses your mind is, “Can I give my dog Imodium for diarrhea?”

The answer is that while Imodium might appear to be a quick fix for a dog’s dodgy tummy, it is far from ideal and can make things worse in the long run.

What is Imodium?

If you’re wondering if you can give your dog Imodium for diarrhea, it helps to understand more about this medication. Imodium is the trade name for a drug called loperamide. This is an over-the-counter human medication used to treat certain types of diarrhea in people.  

It works by calming muscular spasms in the gut wall, which increases the time it takes food to travel the length of the bowel. Think of this like walking to the shops instead of running. The idea behind this slower transit time is it gives the gut more time to absorb fluid out of the ingesta, making for a less liquid final output.

Is Imodium safe for dogs?

One consideration when wondering can I give my dog Imodium for diarrhea is to know Imodium is not licensed for use in dogs. This means that the Imodium has not been through the rigorous safety tests that veterinary drugs must go through, and its safety in dogs not proven. One practical implication is that if an owner gives their dog Imodium and the dog had a bad reaction, the owner has no legal come-back on the manufacturer. In other words, an owner that gives Imodium to their dog does so at their own risk.

The loperamide in Imodium is not considered toxic to dogs and, in theory, may have benefits for certain types of diarrhea. But the difference—and it’s a big but—is the causes of diarrhea are different in people to in dogs. Dog diarrhea is typically a result of scavenging and eating poop or things that simply aren’t food. The resulting diarrhea is nature’s way of cleansing the gut. Giving Imodium to a dog means the nastiness sits inside for longer, which has the potential to make them even sicker.

Another safety consideration is that Imodium is often formulated with lactose to make it tasty enough for people to swallow. If a dog has lactose intolerance, then to give your dog Imodium is the equivalent of poking a hornet’s nest with a stick. It can cause diarrhea, rather than resolving it. Also, loperamide should not be given to patients with liver disease. Since diarrhea can be a symptom of liver disease, the drug should be avoided in dogs unless their liver function is known to be normal.

Why Imodium should NOT be your go-to solution

The problem with Imodium (and other OTC medicines like Pepto Bismol) is that it works too well. For dogs, diarrhea is a safety mechanism. Diarrhea helps eject toxins from the body. Giving Imodium means those toxins or gut-churning bacteria stay inside the dog for longer, allowing them to do more harm. The result could be that the dog appears to improve for a day or two, but then suddenly gets much, much worse.

Another problem with giving Imodium for dogs is that it may mask illness, removing vital clues to a more serious health problem that needs veterinary treatment. For example, conditions such as liver disease, pancreatitis, parasitic disease, and even cancer share diarrhea as a common non-specific symptom. These problems need to be diagnosed and treated, which then clears the diarrhea. There is a risk that by hiding the symptom, a serious problem runs unchecked and a vital opportunity for early diagnosis missed.

Natural alternatives to Imodium for dog diarrhea

No one wants their dog to have diarrhea. But rather than wondering can I give my dog Imodium for diarrhea, it is better to consider some natural alternatives.  In a dog that is otherwise well, simply resting the gut by fasting for 12–24 hours is a good start. Since food in the gut stimulates muscular contraction, an empty stomach is a milder, non-drug version of giving Imodium.

When the next meal is due, go with bland foods such as chicken and rice to aid recovery from a tummy upset. A top tip is to offer small amounts regularly throughout the day, rather than one or two big meals. Those small portions stretch the gut wall less than big ones, which keeps those muscular contracts small and steady. This reduces the risk of sudden explosive diarrhea.

Sprinkling a dog-friendly probiotic onto the food is also a great idea. Probiotics are proven to speed up recovery times from doggy diarrhea. They do this in several ways, such as repopulating the gut with bacteria that help, rather than hinder, digestion. Since tummy bugs often result in too many of the bad sort of bacteria, probiotics are a clever way to correct this problem. But probiotics also have other benefits, such as encouraging the production of B-vitamins which are vital to digestion. Again, this is super-clever because diarrhea depletes the levels of B-vitamins, creating a downhill digestion race where a tummy upset becomes self-perpetuating.

Note that the probiotic must be designed for dogs, rather than a human product. This is because the bugs in a happy canine gut are different from the bugs in a happy human gut. Although you won’t find a dog probiotic on the grocery store shelves, there are plenty available at larger pet stores or from your vet.

dog probiotics

Click here to learn why Lively Paws Wellness Dog Probiotics can help to support your pup's proper digestion.

When to see the vet

Always be mindful of the need to visit the vet. A dog that is otherwise bright and energetic but has simple garbage gut diarrhea can be managed at home. But if the dog is vomiting, under-the-weather, passing blood, the diarrhea continues for days, or otherwise gives cause for worry, then always contact the vet. Remember, diarrhea is a symptom rather than a diagnosis. It may be a clue to poor health which needs following up. 

Read more about diarrhea in dogs

The article is written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on October 24 2020. Medically Reviewed by Joanne Istille.

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